Marine mammal tour licences
If you are running or plan to run a tourism business that relies on whales, dolphins or seals in Victoria, you’ll most likely need a licence. There are five types of licences available:
- Whale watching (boat based)
- Whale watching (aircraft based)
- Seal tour
- Dolphin swim
- Licenced tour operator
Tour licences allow operators to do a number of things that the general public can’t. This includes allowing operators to get closer to marine mammals than the general public, subject to a number of conditions. So while there’s a cost for a licence, it’s also an advantage.
If you intend to conduct your tours in a National Park or other area managed by Parks Victoria, you’ll also need a licensed tour operator permit. Licensed tour operator permits are issued and managed by Parks Victoria. See tour operater licence conditions for further information.
To apply for a licence, please download the form below
To view the Marine Mammal Tour Operator Quick Reference Guide on what tour operators can and can't do around whales, dolphins and seals, please download the guide below.
Whale watching (boat-based)Whale watching tour licences (boat-based) allow tour operators to conduct commercial boat-based tours that approach up to 100metres (m) of a whale or 50m of a dolphin. Licences are subject to a range of conditions including limits on the amount of time boats spend near whales or dolphins, restrictions on the way animals are approached, a requirement to move away from calves and strict reporting requirements. Viewing of both whales and dolphins is permitted.
You do not need a whale watching tour licence (boat-based) if you do not wish to take tours closer than 200m of a whale or 100m of a dolphin.
Whale watching tour licences (boat-based) are available for a 1 or 3 year period and cost $256.62 per year.
Whale watching (aircraft-based)Whale watching tour licences (aircraft-based) allow tour operators to conduct commercial air-based tours within 300m of a whale or dolphin from either fixed-wing aircraft or helicopters. Licences are subject to a range of conditions including a prohibition on hovering over marine mammals, restrictions on the way animals are approached, safeguards if animals show signs of disturbance and strict reporting requirements. Air-based tours to view either whales or dolphins are permitted.
You do not need a whale watching tour licence (aircraft-based) if you do not wish to conduct tours closer than 500m of a whale or dolphin.
Whale watching tour licences (aircraft-based) are available for a 1 or 3 year period and cost $305.50 per year.
Seal tourSeal Tour Licences allow tour operators to conduct boat-based seal tours up to 50m of “protected” seal breeding colonies between 1 November and 28 February or up to 30m between 1 March and 31 October each year. Tours are also permitted up to 10m of “significant” seal breeding colonies, year round.
There are four 'protected' seal breeding colonies in Victoria:
- Cape Bridgewater, near Portland in western Victoria
- Lady Julia Percy Island, 6km off the coast of western Victoria near Port Fairy
- Rag Island, in the Cliffy Group of islands east of Wilson’s Promontory
- The Skerries, in Croajingolong National Park in eastern Victoria
- Seal Rocks, off Phillip Island, south-east of Melbourne
Seal tour licenses are subject to a range of conditions including restrictions on the way animals are approached and safeguards if the animals show signs of disturbance. Seals tours can be boat based or aircraft based.
You do not need a seal tour licence if your tours do not visit a protected or significant seal breeding colony. For example, boat tours to Chinamen’s Hat do not need to be licensed.
Also, you do not need a licence if your tours do not approach closer than the prescribed minimum distance for a seal breeding colony. For example, if you take boat tours to the “protected” breeding colony at Cape Bridgewater but do not approach closer than 100 m between 1 November and 28 February or 50 m between 1 March and 31 October, you do not need a licence. Aircraft tours that do not come within 500 m of a seal do not need to be licensed.
Seal tour licences are available for a 1 or 3 year period and cost $256.62 per year.
Dolphin swimDolphin swim tour licences differ from other marine mammal licences in that only four are available and tours are only permitted in Port Phillip Bay. There are no other dolphin swimming areas permitted in Victoria.
The licences are issued using a competitive tendering process every three years. The existing licences expire on 30 June 2013 and no additional licences are currently available until that time.
More information on how to apply for a dolphin swim tour will be made available on this website in shortly before the expiration of existing licences.
All existing licences are subject to a range of strict conditions including limits on the number of approaches and the number of people permitted in the water, no repositioning of boats or towing swimmers, withdrawing swimmers if a calf is seen and strict reporting requirements.
Licensed tour operatorIf you intend to conduct tours in a marine park, marine sanctuary or other area managed by Parks Victoria, you will need a Licensed Tour Operator Permit, in addition to your Marine Mammal Permit. This includes all commercial tours in Port Phillip Bay as this area is managed by Parks Victoria.
Further information and licensed tour operator permit application forms can be found on the Parks Victoria website.